District 65 school board members discuss, critique STEM program


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

EvanSTEM director Kirby Callam gestures at the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board meeting on Monday. Callam updated board members on the goals of the program.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board members discussed on Monday the future plans for an Evanston-based STEM program, which aims to improve access and engagement for students.

Director of EvanSTEM Kirby Callam said at the meeting that the mission of the program is to create an “ecosystem of learning” by coordinating and collaborating with educators and other partners, including Northwestern, Youth & Opportunity United and Evanston Township High School District 202.

EvanSTEM began about three years ago with a $625,000 grant from the Noyce Foundation — which ceased operations in 2015 — and now receives equal financial support from NU, ETHS and District 65, according to Callam’s presentation.

The partnerships work together to provide free summer and after-school programs that give opportunities to students who have traditionally underperformed or been underrepresented in STEM classes.

Once families sign their children up for programs at STEM Fest — a registration fair in the spring — those organizations then follow up with them to offer more opportunities throughout the year, Callam said.

“With those partnerships and programs, the key to that is really the relationships with families,” Callam said. “And the key to that is holding on to them and moving on with them with Evanston pathways toward high school, toward college and career.”

Callam said while EvanSTEM has a good structure, he wants to strengthen the relationships between programs and families so that students know how to transition from one program to another.

One way EvanSTEM plans to do this is through a case management and counseling program, which tracks 320 students in 2nd through 9th grade.

“The research shows you can engage your kids in something that they’re interested in, but they’re not going to stick with it unless there’s a relationship with an adult or a mentor,” Callam said. “So that’s what we’re working on, pushing on and making sure that happens.”

Callam also hopes to form relationships between ETHS and STEM-oriented businesses in Evanston, such as hospitals, to help students plan for their futures.

Board member Rebeca Mendoza raised concerns that EvanSTEM may exclude students who could benefit from similar opportunities, but are more interested in the arts and humanities.

She said there is so much artistry in fields including architecture and design that some students may want to explore “the arts in STEM.”

“Evanston is a city of artists, too,” Mendoza said. “Being the community that we are, are we missing out on the kids that are artists and could be also scientists?”

Kirby said the limitation of the programs to solely STEM fields comes from a necessity to rein in their scope as well as from the initial mission of the Noyce Foundation, which was to improve the teaching of math and science. He added that students can find some artistry in the design aspects of engineering programs.

District superintendent Paul Goren said a particularly meaningful part of EvanSTEM is when Callam holds conferences for in-school and after-school teachers to coordinate and collaborate.

“To come to these sessions and watch the educators learn from each other as they serve the same children is really valuable,” Goren said. “We want to continue this.”

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